Hess has missed only a few games since 1976, when he retired as Kansas City special agent from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's office of inspector general. "I started coming to Royals games after I fished in all the lakes I could fish in," says Hess. He made a full-time job of rooting because he couldn't persuade one particularly avid fan, his 19-year-old daughter, JoAnn, to stay away from the rowdy right-field GA section, even though she was pregnant with her first child. "I knew the aspect out here. There were a lot of drunks and people smoking pot and all that sort of stuff," Hess says. "I didn't want anybody to give her a hard time, so I went and picked her up and brought her to the games."
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Hess remembers boyhood trips to the Polo Grounds to watch the Giants, to Ebbets Field for Dodgers games and to Yankee Stadium, where he watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
During the final week of a long Royals season, Hess is in his aisle seat holding forth on the sorry state of the hometown team. His accent is neither Midwestern nor agrarian, but pure New Yorker. "We're in the toilet," declares Hess. "We don't have any money to buy any ballplayers."
Hess has arrived four or five hours before the first pitch. "The trick is to get here before the parking lot attendants do," explains Hess. "I haven't paid for parking twice in the past twenty years." During batting practice, Hess leans over the railing and yells at Mike Bacsik, a 23-year-old Cleveland Indians pitcher getting his first taste of the big leagues. Bacsik is shagging fly balls, and Hess wants one, which would bring his collection to 753. "Hey 51," hollers Hess. "How about one for me here?" Bacsik ignores Hess and flips the ball back toward the infield. Hess lets him hear about it. "Ahhh, ya mother! I won't be rooting for your team!"
Asked to pinpoint the cause of the Royals' 97 losses this season, he points his finger in an unlikely direction. "Old man [Ewing] Kauffman had deep pockets, but he was the worst thing that ever happened to us," says Hess. "Although he gave us a ball team, he didn't believe in the free-agent market until it was too late. When he did jab into the free agents, he got the Davis twins and another guy with a rag arm from the Chicago White Sox. Mark Davis was a bad deal. He couldn't throw the ball over the plate. He could throw it over the backstop but never over the plate."
Hess wants Royals owner David Glass to put his money into scouting. "These other teams have good young ballplayers. Where do these guys come from? We've got too many guys from Wichita here now, and people are paying big-league prices to see them play ball. We should put our scouts out there knocking the bushes so we can get some talent here."
Asked whether Glass was right to retain Tony Muser as the Royals' manager, Hess says, "They're going to bring Muser back for next year, but then he's got to do good or he's out on his butt. Canning him then will be an easy decision."
He has traveled to every American League city but Oakland, California, following the Royals. "This is a good baseball town if some of the cats would just leave us alone," says Hess. "They want to build a new stadium? What the hell's wrong with this one? Look at this: I got a five-dollar seat here, and I'm 330 feet from home plate. How can you beat that?"